Pasta with tomato and fresh green peas

Classic tomato still life

The beautiful colors and flavors of the changing seasons never cease to amaze me. In the fall I adore the deep purple of grapes hanging on their vines In the winter every kind of pumpkin is a kitchen obsession. By the time spring arrives all things green and fresh overtake my attention. The grassy smell of celery and the heavy scent of the first leaves of fresh basil bring back memories of wandering through the vineyards behind our neighbor’s house in Caldogno. Spending the evening chasing fire flies between the neatly planted rows of the vegetable garden, I would inevitably ask if I could pick some peas only to eat them raw as dusk turned into darkness. I can still recall the earthy smells of that Italian scene every time I spot some peas in their pods.

The following pasta dish starts with a quick tomato sauce flavored by the holy trinity of celery, carrot and onion — also called a soffritto. Fresh green peas and tuna are stirred into to the sauce just before the pasta is cooked al dente. The pasta is then tossed with a colorful and savory mix of ingredients that work more than well together. The first time I ate pasta with tuna and peas was oh so long ago in the summer all’aperto . The good memories of star-studded nights in Italy are etched in my subconscious. Today, this dish also happens to be one of my daughter’s favorites!

Soffritto trio

Ingredients

  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 small carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 50-75 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cans Italian plum tomatoes . 400 ml each
  • or 1 kilo of fresh . ripe tomatoes
  • 750 grams fresh peas in their pods
  • or 250 grams frozen shelled peas
  • 120 grams tuna preserved in olive oil
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil
  • 500 grams spelt flour rigatoni or other short-shaped pasta
  • the juice of a half a lemon
  • fleur de sel of Celtic sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

A soffritto is an important flavor base created by slowly sautéing celery, onion and carrots in olive oil. It is the basis of countless sorts of soup, sauce and stews in the Italian kitchens of almost every region. It is what I like to call a cupboard essential. It can be easily prepared in advance to save on cooking time during a busy work week.

Peel the onions. Wash and peel the carrots. Pull the tough threads off back of the celery stalks with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Chop each vegetable very fine one by one with a sharp knife. To save time the kitchen machine is a perfectly acceptable tool. I prefer to chop each ingredient separately regardless of the instrument used. This keeps the flavor of each ingredient pure and fresh.

Soffritto in blue bowl

Saute the onions, celery and carrot in four tablespoons of olive oil at low heat for about ten minutes. Sprinkle with salt, and stir occasionally. Meanwhile shell the peas from their pods. Wash the flat-leafed parsley and cut the stems and their leaves very fine with a sharp knife. Set the parsley aside in a bowl. Pick the leaves of basil and set them aside for later use, keeping the stems to flavor the pasta water.

Roughly chop the fresh tomatoes if using, or open the tins of canned plum tomatoes. Tip the tomatoes into the soffritto and let the tomatoes cook at an easy bubble for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile shell the peas from their pods, squeeze the juice of the lemon and drain the canned tuna. Set a big pot of water on to boil for the pasta, making sure to add a good pinch of salt as well as the reserved basil stems to flavor the water.

Add the fresh (or frozen) peas and the tuna to the tomato sauce. Turn the heat to low and let the peas cook in the sauce ten minutes. If by chance the sauce is too thick at this point, add a soup ladle of the pasta water to the sauce. Meanwhile cook the pasta of your choice al dente. Add half the lemon juice, a pinch of fleur de sel and a good grind of black pepper to the tomato sauce and stir. Taste the sauce for the right balance between, sweet, salty and savory and stir in the basil leaves.

Green peas shelled

Drain the pasta in a colander (reserving a cupful of water for the sauce). Return the pasta into the empty pan to keep it warm while finishing the last few steps to the dinner table.

Drizzle the pasta with some extra virgin olive oil, toss in the chopped flat leaf parsley and stir well to coat. Add the tomato sauce with peas and tuna. If the sauce seems too thick to coat the pasta evenly, pour in a bit of the reserved pasta water to the sauce. Stir all ingredients well. Taste the pasta for the right balance of flavors, adding a pinch of fleur de sel, olive oil or pepper and enjoy.

Suggested combinations
This pasta is a meal in itself. I like to serve a simple green salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice as a starter on especially warm summer days. This pasta is perfect for a picnic on the beach by the way.

Notes
Al dente is literally translated as “with a bite” in English. Pasta in Italy is in fact served with a bite. It is interesting to know that the further south one goes, pasta is cooked steadily more al dente.  Also the further south one travels along the continent, the larger the pasta shapes seem to become. For this recipe I used an organic pasta made with a combination of spelt and quinoa flour.

Classic tomato close-up

P.S. 
This recipe is my twist on one of Jamie’s 10 Food Revolution recipes. I gladly contribute to Mr. Oliver’s campaign as super ambassador of the Food Revolution. I too feel that teaching and passing on cooking skills to friends and family makes life not only more meaningful but infinitely more valuable on an emotional level. Read more on this here.

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